The Great Persecution under Caiaphas, Pilate, and Paul
The book of revelation depicts two persecutions against the church: the persecution of the dragon and the persecution under the beast, harlot, and false prophet. In this article, we want to identify the time and circumstance of the first of these two great persecutions.
The Dragon, the Woman, and the Man-child
The persecution under the dragon is portrayed in Revelation twelve where it attempts to destroy the man-child at the time of its very birth:
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. Rev. 12:1-6
The basic imagery is taken from the garden where the dragon appears in the form of the serpent, which tempted the woman. The serpent was not a demonic being; it was a serpent, just as the text says. It was chosen as the medium by which the woman was tempted because of the symbolic value associated with the venom of its bite. Just as the bite of the serpent produces physical death, so sin produces moral, spiritual, and eternal death. From an actual serpent that was given man’s voice to tempt the woman, the serpent is thence abstracted and made a symbol for sin and death and those that act in obedience to their command; the woman a symbol for the people of God. The scripture’s then foretell the conflict between offspring of the woman and the serpent:
And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. Gen. 3:14-16
The woman’s Seed is Christ; the promised Kinsman Redeemer; the serpent would “bruise the heel” of the promised Seed (strike a nonfatal blow) in the crucifixion, but the Seed would crush the serpent’s head by the power of his cross and resurrection. (Cf. Col. 2:14, 15) The enmity between the woman and the serpent is manifested in the struggle between the people of God and their worldly oppressors. The symbol of the serpent was appropriated upon by the prophets, where it was merged into the symbol of Leviathan, the world civil power opposing God and oppressing his people:
In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. Isa. 27:1
In the Old
Testament, Leviathan most often stood for
Ask of me and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. Ps. 2:8, 9
attempt to devour the Christ-child at his birth refers to Herod’s
slaughter of the Innocents. (Matt. 2:16-18) Catching up
of the man child to the God and his throne is prospective, and looks
to the ascension of Christ following his death and resurrection.
Christ’s earthly ministry is depicted in the imagery of Michael and
his angels (Christ and the apostles) doing battle with the dragon
and his angels (Sin,
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Rev. 12:11
dragon saw that he was defeated, he turned his wrath upon the woman,
pouring out persecution from its mouth like a flood. (vv.
13-15) This persecution, following as it does fast upon
the heels of the man-child’s ascension, is readily identified with
the persecution that arose over St. Stephen. Stephen was
arraigned before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy for teaching
that Christ would come and destroy the city and temple and change
the customs delivered by Moses. (Acts ,
15) This had been the substance of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse
24, 25); Christ had also foretold of his coming while on trial
before the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:64), and the destruction of
narrative relates that the woman was given wings for flight and a
place to hide in the wilderness, where she was sustained for a time,
times, and half a time, or one thousand two hundred three score
days. (vv.6, 14) This refers to the scattering of
the church upon the persecution. Driven from
As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Acts 8:4; cf.
to persecute the church in
I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar. Acts 25:10, 11
This facet of Roman law, which recognized jurisdiction based upon citizenship, lay behind Saul’s ability to travel to foreign cities and there arrest Jews professing faith in Christ. For it had been a right granted the Jews from the time of Julius Caesar that they were allowed to keep their own laws, were exempt from military duty and certain taxes, recognition of the Sabbath day, the right of living according to the customs of their forefathers, and full jurisdiction over their own members. Josephus records numerous edicts by the Romans on behalf of the nation, securing them various privileges and immunities. One in particular testifies to the fact that Jews were allowed legislative bodies and courts in foreign cities with power to make decrees and adjudicate cases binding their members.
Antonius, the son of Marcus, vice-quaestor, and vice-praetor, to the
magistrates, senate, and people of the Sardians, sendeth greeting.
Those Jews that are our fellow-citizens of
The Sceptre of Judah and the ius gladii
Notwithstanding the ability to arrest Jewish citizens and bring them
rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou
then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou
shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee
for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he
beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a
revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
gladdii was part of the sceptre of
sceptre shall not depart from
sovereign power embodied in the sceptre, including the right to
adjudicate and execute capital crimes, was made sure to
Archelaus’s part of
The Persecution Collapses
Pontius Pilate succeeded to the office of procurator by the
appointment of Tiberius.
The book of Acts is silent about Pilate’s role in the persecution
that arose over Stephen, but, as no one might be put to death in
At the same
time he removed Pilate, Vitellius traveled to
Woe is me because of the house of Beothus,
Woe is me because of their staves.
Woe is me because of the house of Hanan,
Woe is me because of their whisperings.
Woe is me because of the house of Kathros,
Woe is me because of their pens.
Woe is me because of the house of Ismael ben Phabi,
Woe is me because of their fists.
For they are high priests, and their sons are treasurers, and their sons-in-laws are temple overseers, and their servants beat the people with clubs.
Restoring the care and custody of the high priestly garments to the Jews at the same time he removed Caiaphas indicates that issues concerning the high priesthood were of high priority to the Jews and that there was widespread dissatisfaction with Caiaphas. Upon the death of Festus, before Albinus arrived to replace him, Ananus, the son of Annas the father-in-law of Caiaphas, convened the Sanhedrin and put to death James, the Lord’s brother, with several of his fellow disciples. Josephus records that many of the leading Jews complained to Albinus of Ananus’ convening of the Sanhedrin and unlawful usurpation of the ius gladii:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he [Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrim of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or some of his companions;] and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa,] desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified: nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrim without his consent: whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
Given that the apostles and church were held in high esteem by the Jewish people at the time Caiaphas was removed (Acts 5:12-16) and that many of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7), it is quite possible that the persecution of the church contributed to the request Caiaphas be removed from office, much as it did thirty years later when Ananias was removed by Agrippa II for having stoned James.
the loss of the ius gladii in the person of Pilate, Saul
would go on to press the persecution to foreign cities, seeking
letters from the high priests to imprison those calling upon Christ.
However, Saul would never reach
The had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; waling in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. (Acts )
would slay James, the brother of John, with the sword, but his
persecution ended almost as abruptly as it started by Agrippa’s
untimely death. (Acts 12) Agrippa II was too young to
manage his father’s kingdom, so Claudius returned
indicates the persecution under Caiaphas, Pilate, and Paul lasted
three and a half years. Beginning with the death of Stephen
until the conversion of Paul is three and a half years. Paul
states that he went up to Jerusalem three years after his
conversion; then, he went again fourteen years later to the
Jerusalem Counsel to settle the question whether Gentiles needed to
be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. (Gal. 2:1; Acts
15:2) Most authorities place this at A.D. 50. He
returned two or three years later, while Gallio was proconsul of
Achaia. (Acts ,
22) From an inscription found at
twelve depicts the birth of the Savior, his earthly ministry, and
the persecution that erupted over the martyrdom of Stephen. The
wisdom and foresight of God removed the ius gladii from the
 Ibid, II, viii, 1; Whiston ed.
 The succession of procurators until the revolt in AD 66: Coponius (6-9AD); Marcus Ambivius (9-12 AD); Antonius Rufus (12 -15 AD); Valerius Gratus (15-26 AD); Pontius Pilate (26-36 AD); Marcelius (36-37 AD); Marullus (37-40 AD); Fadus (44-46 AD); Tiberius Alexander (46-48 AD); Ventidius Cumanus (48-52 AD); Felix (52-60); Festus (60-62 AD); Albinus (62-64 AD); Gessius Florus (64-66 AD). Agrippa I was king from 40-44 AD.
 Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII, vi, 2.
 Paul’s testimony that he was stoned of the Jews resulted from mob action, not lawful exercise of the ius gladii. (Acts ) The instances in which he was beaten with rods or received 40 stripes save one, would have been under the authority of local synagogues. (II Cor. 11:24, 25)
 Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII, vi, 3.
 B. Pesahim 57a; T. Menahoth 13:21. The house of Kathros has been unearthed by archaeologists and is known as the “burnt house.”
 Josephus, Antiquities, XX, ix, 1; Whiston ed.
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